Part 1. Getting to know where we are:

Three ecological units

Imagine a map of the region where you live. Better yet, open a copy of a real map. Right now, just use this map of an imaginary catchment.

There are three types of local ecological units: Catchment, Neighbourhood and Place.

Bringing these three ideas together brings the science of ecology closer to our day to day activities. It's a way which acknowledges each of us as an integral part of nature.

Locate the three types of local ecological units on the map of an imaginary catchment, the The Catchment, The Neighbourhood and The Place.

Each ecological unit is unique. Although there are some similarities between catchments, neighbourhoods and places, they all have an unrepeatable special quality.

Each unit is actually an ongoing process in full motion. We can train ourselves to understand them in a dynamic way. see Part 3 Recognising how we live: glimpses of local ecology in action, also Field Services.

(sometimes known as the watershed)

Technically, the area from which rainfall flows into a river. This area begins at the ridgetops, encompasses slopes and valleys and eventually comes down the low point, the sea, the bottom of pond or lake. We extend the definition to include the places undersea which receive the waters from the land. This is usually a section including the coastal shelf or a deeper undersea zone.

The boundaries of a catchment are based largely on physical features. Although we are not used to thinking of the sea and the sea floor as part of our “landscape”, it is. This is where topsoil, rubbish, contaminants and more get to. This is where we harvest seafood. This is where we play and where we ponder. Politically, there are international treaties defining coastal zones as national places. It is high time we include the near and far marine zones as part of our thinking of local catchments.

The size of catchments vary. To get a sense of how a particular catchment works begins with exploring it throughout different seasons. Walking the waterways, viewing the sights, knowing where the sun rises and sets throughout the year.

As a society, we don’t consider understanding a catchment as common sense or general knowledge. But we could. On our own, with family or friends, or in our clubs and groups.


  1. Use existing maps and make up an outline map of your catchment. Mark the high places, the waterways, the major roads, the coastal shelf. Make outings to the source of streams, the highest and lowest points on the land, etc. Fill in the map with names for different features.

    You might need to make some up yourselves.
  2. Get the outline map of your catchment featured on local bulletin boards, at the library, the hall, the dairy. You can even set up a special purpose bulletin board -- in your catchment and on this website -- featuring this map and news about the local ecology.
    Doing this could be a special service that your club or group offers. Once a display is up and running, more and more people tend to get involved.
  3. Set up a catchment based Neighbourhood Biology project.
    Catchment Homepages.
  4. Set up a Neighbourhood Biology team in your catchment.
    Employment Opportunities.


The area of everyday living, marked by physical features as well as social habits. We often sense a neighbourhood clearly, recognise its characteristics and can tell when we have just left the area.

Marking the actual boundaries on a map is more difficult than marking out a catchment. The boundaries are what the people there see as boundaries. And these even change over time, given more thought or with the input of still other people.

This “fuzziness” is a valuable feature of our definition of neighbourhoods. The boundaries can change, coming into new focus when changes occur. This scope, this changeability is important as it builds flexibility into our understanding of exactly where we live.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, another component of neighbourhoods is emotional, in that the “dwellers next door, (are) especially those as having claim on others' friendliness.” However slight or strained that feeling can seem sometimes, it exists by sheer virtue of the fact we are all in it together here, on this particular area of land. This feeling is one part of a local ecological ethic.

Collections of neighbourhoods comprise catchments. Where, right off, a catchment seems to be of a scale that is large and remote, neighbourhoods are personable, within our day to day living.


  1. Fill in your outline map of the catchment with the boundaries of the various neighbourhoods. You might not be able to fill the map with all the neighbourhoods right away.
  2. How are these different neighbourhoods characterised? What makes them the kind of places they are? What kind of future do they seem to be heading for?

Answering this is a great neighbourhood activity. It can be hosted by a class at school or a community group. It is important that the information is from people who actually live in these neighbourhoods. What do other people think?

It only takes a few people to make a start. Display your results, locally and electronically.


A particular location within a neighbourhood, identified by a number of features: physical, social, historical, spiritual, etc.. It can be natural or made by humans. Its boundaries are “fuzzy”.

Places comprise neighbourhoods. In the course of a day, we frequent a number of places for different purposes and can end up quite familiar with them. We get fond of some of them and really dislike others.

It is at the level of place that we often first notice that something is going wrong. Development is threatening a patch of bush. There is more rubbish. The water in the stream smells funny. The shellfish are missing. A new exotic plant is spreading.


  1. Identify important places in your neighbourhood. Get them marked on a map. How do you and your neighbours feel about them? What have these places been like before, even 20 years ago? What are they heading towards becoming? How do all of you feel about that?
  2. What names do these places have? What history is there to these names?
Part 2: Identifying who we are: us as neighbours
Field services
Highlights from Introductory Workshops
1997 Mary Gardner Proudly supported by APC Converge